1 Timothy 5:23
Here we have several apparent problems: Paul told Timothy to use natural means to treat his stomach, and apparently, Timothy was often sick. Also, Paul didn't just "heal him," as some people say he could have done if healing were for all. The objector usually adds that Paul did not tell Timothy to believe for his healing or to speak to his body, believe that he received his healing, or anything else we might tell people to do today.
The water could indeed have been the cause of Timothy's trouble given Paul's exhortation to not drink it. (Some translations say "Drink no longer only water" instead of "Drink no longer water," but this is an interpretation since the word only does not appear in the original Greek text.) I don't know whether this variety of wine was alcoholic or not; I'll let others debate that. However, he was assuredly not telling Timothy to go around all day with a buzz.
Many places on the earth today are known to have bad water, and people often get sick when they travel there if they drink it. This is not a curse that comes on them for sinning. The water just happens to have certain microorganisms in it. Instead of telling people to drink up and believe God, better counsel would be: "Drink something other than water. If you drink this water, you'll have frequent health problems!" Why get sick and believe God for healing when you can avoid the sickness in the first place? Why have recurring health problems like Timothy did if they're avoidable through natural means? The last time I went to such a place, I just avoided the water.
So what about Paul not exhorting Timothy to believe for his healing? Remember that this is the same Paul who wrote that our bodies were paid for, that the Lord is for the body, that we always triumph in Christ, that we reign in this life, that every knee bows when the name of Jesus is spoken, and that all things are under Christ's feet (and thus under ours). This same Paul described sickness at Corinth as a judgment for carnality, not the will of God. This is the same Paul who preached and had a man receive "faith to be healed" listening to his gospel. Paul must have preached healing for this man to have gotten faith from listening to him, since faith comes by hearing God's Word.
This is the same Paul through whom special miracles were done, so that cloths that had touched him were taken to the sick, and they recovered. This same Paul healed all the sick people on the island in Acts 28. This same Paul raised a man from the dead. This same Paul chided so-called "apostles" who had no power. Paul said that the kingdom of God is not only in word, but also in power. Paul said that he had fully preached the gospel after saying that signs and wonders were done. He obviously considered Holy Ghost miracle power to be a normal part of the preaching of the gospel.
We know that healing was the norm in these days because James gave instructions on what to do IF there is any sick among you. The very word IF implies that there doesn't need to be any sick among you. Paul taught in this setting. It was not like it is today, where James might have had to ask, "Is any among you well?"
So there is no way that you can say that Paul did not believe in healing. How could he not, when his body was abused frequently, and he always went on to the next place and preached some more! He was stoned and left for dead in Galatia, yet got up and went back to town the very next day after the believers prayed for him. Although this obviously caused a physical trial for him (
Gal 4:13), this trial was only "at the first," and then Paul was back to normal again!
Of course, the objection is based on the "fact" that Paul did not tell Timothy that he had any power to do anything about it. That is a somewhat dubious proposition, since Paul did tell Timothy that God had given him the Spirit of power (2 Tim 1:7). He also made a promise (which mothers should believe today) that God will preserve the physical life of the godly mother in childbirth (1 Tim 2:15). That is a health promise, and it's in the same book as the verse about Timothy's stomach! Paul also told Timothy in the same book that men (this would include Timothy) should pray without doubting (1 Tim 2:8). Therefore, you cannot truthfully say that Paul never said anything to Timothy about health or faith.
Paul was a father in the faith to Timothy, so Timothy had to know Paul's teachings on healing. Paul told Timothy to have nothing to do with fables and genealogies, but to minister "godly edifying which is in faith" (1 Tim 1:4). You should further note that there is no reference to Timothy's ailments in 2 Timothy. So for all you know Timothy took Paul's advice from 1 Timothy and didn't have any more trouble! We know that Timothy was able to travel and minister the gospel, so whatever it was could not have been hindering him from doing that. Contrast that with people in the hospital, able to do little or nothing about world evangelism, thinking that this verse about Timothy's stomach proves that they have no alternative.
Whatever was wrong with Timothy, it could not have been very serious. Timothy was still able to preach and minister to his congregation. He was not bedridden. I suspect that Paul would be appalled if he could see how far some people have run with this one verse about ailments that could not have been major.
Paul told Timothy that Scripture makes you perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. How could you be perfect and furnished unto all good works if you were out of circulation because of illness? Keeping you healthy is part of what Scripture will do. Anyone even in the Old Testament could have known that from Proverbs 4:20-22.
It is surely a wrong assumption that Paul told Timothy to use wine instead of believing God for healing. Given the ministerial track record of the apostle Paul, it seems unlikely that Paul would never have counseled him to believe God for his healing. You can't prove an argument from silence either way. However, given Timothy's apparent trouble staying healthy, Paul gave him some natural advice. It is a good thing for Christians to do what they can in the natural to stay healthy. That is not unspiritual. Bodily exercise does profit a little (as Paul also told Timothy in 1 Tim 4:8, although here the point is that exercising yourself unto godliness is far more important). You don't throw common sense out the window just because you're saved.
You can just read the verse in question (1 Tim 5:23) and realize that Timothy was not constantly sick. Paul did not tell him to drink wine because of his illness. He said to do it because of his frequent illnesses. If you just stayed sick, that would be an illness, not illnesses in the plural. To have illnesses, you must first have an illness and then be healthy and then get another illness. Timothy could not have been ill all the time. Paul said the opposite. He gave Timothy some advice about what to do about the fact that he seemed to keep getting sick again after recovering from his sicknesses. Perhaps there was a water problem there, and Timothy needed to stop drinking it because it was making him sick. Yes, it was apparently a chronically recurring condition, but Paul tried to rid Timothy of it. He definitely did not tell Timothy, "Just accept that it isn't God's will for you to be healed of this," as many today would think.
Since Timothy had recurring illnesses, for all you know Timothy did use his faith when he got sick to get rid of the illnesses, and Paul was just trying to help Timothy not get sick in the first place!
This verse is a good answer to all who wonder if taking medicine is okay. It surely is if Paul told Timothy to use natural means to help him get healed. Why not do all you can to be in the health that is the known will of God (3 John 2)?
This is not the only time that Scripture refers to eating habits and health. Proverbs 25:16 gives us some natural advice against making yourself sick by pigging out on sweets: "Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it." (Side note: Solomon did not say not to eat sweets at all; he just said to do so in moderation.) You need to respect natural laws concerning eating to stay healthy. As any doctor can tell you, you can make yourself sick without any help from the devil simply by eating poorly. On the other end, do not become like some "health food nut" Christians who are busier promoting the gospel of brown rice, unbleached sugar and tofu than the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ! This was not Jesus' message and is not our message. Paul even warned Timothy about people who commanded others to "abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." (1 Timothy 4:3-5).
You should see the Biblical balance of neither eating unhealthily nor getting preoccupied with food.
So why didn't Paul just "heal" Timothy? If healing was for Timothy, why did Paul give him natural advice instead of just laying hands on him and healing him? The answer to this question is obvious from 1 Timothy itself. Paul was writing from Macedonia to a man in Ephesus. Get out your map and you'll see that Macedonia is not exactly around the corner from Ephesus! A personal visit to Timothy would have required a very long trip. Paul couldn't lay hands on a man in Ephesus from Macedonia! If Paul were anywhere near Timothy, he could have just gone and visited him instead of writing him a long letter! That is the simple reason why Paul did not just "heal" him when he wrote 1 Timothy.
Anyone using this verse "against" healing should note that Paul's advice to Timothy was explicitly so that Timothy would be healed. Paul did not say that Timothy's "often infirmities" were his cross to bear and that he should accept them. As always, Paul's view on illness was that it was something to be avoided, not accepted. This should be your view as well.
Acts 27:33-34 shows us another case where Paul gave people natural advice for their health.
The objector usually adds something about how Paul didn't tell Timothy to "stand in faith" for his stomach. Paul did tell Timothy to follow after faith (1 Tim 6:11), to "fight the good fight of faith" (1 Tim 6:12) and to "hold faith" (1 Tim 1:19). He was exhorted to be an example in faith (1 Tim 4:12). He stressed the importance of "unfeigned faith" (1 Tim 1:5), avoiding foolishness that was not the godly edifying which is in faith (1 Tim 1:4), and that men were to pray without doubting (1 Tim 2:8)!
Think about it -- today, many use this one stomach verse to justify praying while doubting -- doubting God's willingness to answer the petition for healing, figuring that in his sovereignty, God may make an exception like he supposedly did for Timothy! Funny, that's NOT how Paul told Timothy that prayer should be done!
Of course, since the faith exhortations were not in the context of Timothy's stomach, some people will consider them irrelevant to the subject. But actually, there is no real context to the verse about Timothy's stomach. The surrounding verses are totally unrelated.
Since Timothy was in church leadership, he was obligated to pray for the sick himself (James 5:14-16) since he would be in the class of "elder" described by James. God did not have one standard for Timothy's church and another for other churches, so Timothy had to believe in and practice the laying on of hands for healing himself.